KL – cleaning up the mess

10 Feb 2019 / 19:27 H.

“CITIES such as New York, London, Paris and Singapore possess a mix of factors such as business activity, human capital, information exchange, political engagement, and cultural experiences that help organisations and people to thrive ... commitments to key areas such as innovation, transparency and information exchange will define the next generation of the world’s most influential cities”.

A.T. Kerney, Global Cities Index 2018, Insights from the East: Learning from China’s Urban Success

So how close or how far is KL from being a world class or at least Asian class capital city?

We have had six decades of BN rule which has seen progress as well as setbacks in life in KL. What is the mess left behind and how can it be cleared up?

We have some feedback from locals. Here’s one comment from a reader (of a blog) which many KL residents will agree with: “My fantasy is to make cabinet ministers, DBKL honchos walk on our sidewalks. Let’s say from Batu 5 to Batu 6 Jalan Gombak, which is still Wilayah. Then they can see for themselves: The bengkel kereta parking cars on the sidewalks. Some wrecks are dumped on the sidewalks. The rubbish. The hole that can swallow a man.”

And from one foreign assessment, KL is falling back rather than moving ahead on key indicators of liveability.

In March 2018, British consulting firm, ECA International reported that KL occupies a lowly 126th place in a list of the most liveable cities for Asian expatriates. Among the main reasons for the dramatic drop of over 100 places from 25th place five years ago are petty crime and air pollution.

Now that we have a new government and new minister of Federal Territory what is being done about tackling the decline in quality of living as seen in the badly controlled and haphazard rapid urban expansion, unaffordable housing, traffic jams worsened by flash floods, poorly regulated building sites, damaged sidewalks littered with waste, lack of parks and green space, etc.

According to social media feedback, members of the public can be forgiven if they decided not to hold their breath for improvements. In November, Federal Territories Minister Khalid Abdul Samad announced the decision to shorten the operating hours of entertainment outlets to 1am from Jan 1. One reason was to encourage locals to spend time with their families and to help them save money. It was also reported that the restriction would enable Malaysians to sleep early and stay healthy.

What was not shared was that this ruling could burnish the “Islamic” credentials of the minister and his ministry by restricting the official hours of nightclubs and other “dens of drink, noise, sin and debauchery”. Thanks to protests from entertainment outlets and tourist agencies, this proposal has been shelved.

Kuala Lumpur’s nightlife like in many cities of the world can now go on until the early hours of the morning.

There are more important big city issues that our politicians and bureaucrats can focus on apart from penalising late night partygoers. Kuala Lumpur is exactly like other big cities that have to cope with the rapid growth in population, traffic, infrastructural demands, pollution, unaffordable housing, etc.

But unlike most cities there has been no shortage of resources to address these inevitable pains that are associated with rapid urbanisation. In addition to a surfeit of money, manpower and machinery, Kuala Lumpur as part of the Federal Territories Ministry established in 2006 has had an Umno leader as minister indicating the importance attached to the capital city’s development and the significance of having a Malay political leader who has feet well entrenched in the corridors of power in running and managing the nation’s urban crown jewel.

Since the attempt to restrict the nightlife hours of Kuala Lumpur it is encouraging to see Khalid turn his guns on more meaningful issues such as the lobbies that operate behind the scenes. With their political and monetary leverage it is these lobbies that are mainly responsible for the quality of life or lack of it that the city folks enjoy or have to put up with. In an unprecedented act of bravado, Khalid recently declared his intention to break up what he labels as “cartels” within DBKL.

“We want to break up the cartels which entered DBKL. This is one of my visions as the Federal Territories minister, which has DBKL under my portfolio,” he said in a special meeting with the media on Jan 29.

To support his claim, he said that for river-cleaning projects, DBKL allocates RM60 million annually and it was previously distributed to the same group of 30 contractors, who earned about RM2 million each.

“That’s why there’s a cartel, they control DBKL. We believe so,” he said when asked if the cartel that he was referring to were political cronies.

What Khalid has pinpointed is the dominant motif embedded in the country’s political culture under BN since independence. It is well known that the development and running of Kuala Lumpur has provided rich returns.

In cleaning up the mess in KL the Amanah party leader will need to contend not only with Umno politicians but also with coalition party leaders such as Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abd Rahman who has called for the government to grant contracts to the party’s divisions and branches.

In repeating this demand the PPBM vice-president has reiterated that his call was made with basis, was accurate and also timely as he was voicing the views of division and branch chiefs: “What I said was not scripted but spontaneous”.

Presumably what Khalid said on DBKL affairs being handled without abuse of power and corruption was also spontaneous and not scripted.

Let’s see how this two different political positions on rewarding party supporters using public funds works itself out in the very rich battleground of our national capital.

Lim Teck Ghee’s “Another Take” is aimed at demystifying status quo orthodoxy. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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